Alongside the continuing disaster of North America’s heat, drought, and wildfires has come Hurricane Ida on the Gulf Coast, U.S. Northeast, even as far as Quebec. Only 4% of broadcast media in the U.S. linked Hurricane Ida to climate change – preferring to report on the flooding, storm surge, resulting power losses, evacuations, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, death and destruction. Yet with less media attention, scientists worldwide have published recent studies unequivocally linking such weather extremes with climate change and human activity. Notable examples over the summer : 1. Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, the first installment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, 2. The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) released by the World Meteorological Organization on August 31, and 3. The WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin , launched on September 1.
The world’s scientists issue a Code Red warning in the IPCC 6th Assessment
At almost 4,000 pages, the full IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, is a comprehensive compilation and assessment of the latest research by the world’s scientists. More readable and less technical: the Summary for Policymakers , or the official Fact Sheet . The U.N. press release announcement was accompanied by warnings of the “Code Red” situation: irreversible climate-related damage is already underway across the world, and immediate, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are urgently needed. The report was summarized widely: for example, in “Global Climate Panel’s Report: No Part of the Planet Will be Spared” (Inside Climate News, Aug. 9); by Carbon Brief here ; or by The Guardian here .
An analysis of coverage by 17 international newspapers found that Canadian news outlets, with the exception of the Toronto Star, were particularly poor at explaining the IPCC report – as summarized in “When Dire Climate News Came, Canada’s Front Pages Crumpled “ in (The Tyee, Aug. 19). However, outside of the mainstream media, here are some noteworthy examples of Canadian news coverage:
“Climate scientist John Fyfe explains why new IPCC report shows ‘there’s no going back’” (The Narwhal, Aug. 12)
“It’s Code Red for the Climate. Will BC Do Anything about It?” (The Tyee, Aug. 10)
Two blogs by David Suzuki in Rabble.ca “Climate report shows world pushed to the brink by fossil fuels” and “IPCC report could be a legal game-changer for climate“(Sept. 1)
“IPCC warns of climate breakdown, politicians warn of each other” (National Observer, Aug. 9)
“U.N. Climate Report scapegoats “human activity” rather than fossil-fuel capitalism” (Breach Media), which states: “We should welcome the latest IPCC Report for its scientific insight. But we should also understand it as an ideological document that obscures the crucial systemic causes of climate change. For advice on what social forces could push forward climate solutions, readers will have to look beyond the thousands of pages generated by the IPCC.”
Extreme weather disasters caused US$ 3.64 trillion, 2 million deaths between 1970 and 2019
A second new international scientific report is The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019), released on August 31 by the World Meteorological Organization. It aggregates and analyses statistics on world disasters, with continent-level breakdowns. It reports that there were more than 11,000 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards between 1970 and 2019, accounting for just over 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in economic losses. This represents 50% of all recorded disasters, 45% of related deaths and 74% of related economic losses over the last 50 years. Food for thought for those who say that fighting climate change is too expensive!
The WMO Atlas includes an extensive discussion of current and new statistical disaster databases, and how they can be used to reduce loss and damage. It also includes a brief explanation of “attribution research”, which seeks to determine whether disasters are human-caused. ( A recent article in Inside Climate News is more informative on the issue of attribution science, highlighting the research of the World Weather Attribution network, which has already published its findings about the German flooding in July 2021).
Finally, on September 3, the WMO also published the first issue of its Air Quality and Climate Bulletin , highlighting the main factors that influence air quality patterns in 2020 – including a section titled “The impact of Covid-19 on air quality.” The Bulletin concludes that there is “an intimate connection between air quality and climate change. While human-caused emissions of air pollutants fell during the COVID-19 economic turndown, meteorological extremes fuelled by climate and environmental change triggered unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that affected air quality…. This trend is continuing in 2021. Devastating wildfires in North America, Europe and Siberia have affected air quality for millions, and sand and dust storms have blanketed many regions and travelled across continents.”
In another section, “Global mortality estimates for ambient and household air pollution” the new Bulletin states that global mortality increased from 2.3 million in 1990 to 4.5 million in 2019 (92% due to particulate matter, 8% due to ozone). Regionally, present-day total mortality is greatest in the super-region of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, with 1.8 million total deaths.